Hannah Montana and Philosophy (Pt 1): Camusian Existentialism & Embracing the Absurd

Hannah Montana / Albert Camus
Hannah Montana / Albert Camus

No, this title is no exaggeration; this really is about Hannah Montana and existentialism. It is also, in a way, about ambition, achievement and, since it is now January 2011, and these are things many of us think about at New Year, it is implicitly about that too.

Most crucially, this post is about The Absurd. Not indeed, the kind of “absurd” reserved for say, the idea of writing about Hannah Montana and existentialism (ahem), but, for those unfamiliar with the philosophical term, the idea that there is a conflict between the human tendency to seek meaning in life, the universe, and everything, and our inability to find meaning in a cold, impartial universe.

To some, such a notion may seem awfully bleak at first glance, though, in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, philosopher Albert Camus does offer a solution. Camus considers the legend of Sisyphus, the mythical King who was doomed  to forever push a boulder up a mountain, which, when it reached the top, would roll back to the bottom; thus it would continue for eternity. To Camus, Sisyphus was the ultimate Absurd hero, condemned to a meaningless task; and yet, he concludes:

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” — Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Our lives are journeys, and, within these journeys, happiness and meaning is to be found. This is where Hannah Montana concurs.

“Life’s a climb, but the view is great.” — Hannah Montana, Hannah Montana: The Movie.

Admittedly, these words are originally spoken to Miley by her inevitable cute-teenage-boy-love-interest in Hannah Montana: The Movie, then, once she has understood the lessons to be found within the movie, she repeats them in the concluding scene, before performing the movie’s main song, The Climb. A perfect aspirational, existentialist anthem.

You may read the full lyrics here, but an excerpt is below:

“There’s always gonna be another mountain,

I’m always gonna wanna make it move.

Always gonna be an uphill battle,

Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.

Ain’t about how fast I get there,

Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side:

It’s The Climb.”

As we can see, this is basically a song all about Camusian existentialism.

While Camus also states that “the workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd”, it need not be so specific (as many readings go) as to refer to the futility of jobs working in factories and such. Absurdism applies to the entirety of our human existence; to the plethora of experiences which make up our modern careers. Indeed, The Climb was originally written by songwriters Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe, about the obstacles they had overcome, and overcoming the struggles they faced in the music industry, “being underdogs in the business”, and having “record deal ups and downs”.

Our careers, our lives, are Sisyphean journeys; there is meaning and value inherent in these journeys. Always gonna be an uphill battle; the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart.

I’m the first to admit that I’ve always been a very ambitious sort of person. I take pleasure in the struggle; in trying to scale mountains, as literal or figurative as they may be. It is, simply, my personality type. For someone like me, Camus/Montana’s existentialism is extremely pertinent, and actually encompasses a number of the platitudes which comes along with trying to reach lofty goals: “fail early, fail often”, for instance. Keep rolling that boulder up that mountain.

At the beginning of a New Year, it seems customary for most of us to reflect upon our achievements so far, and think about our ambitions for the next stage of our lives. The knowledge that “sometimes you’re gonna have to lose” should not stop us from making Big Hairy Audacious Goals. In fact, it is best, for it is the struggle towards these goals that makes the journey more interesting.

I wish you all success and happiness in your own journeys in 2011. Make resolutions, set lofty goals. Know that some you will achieve, and some you will fail. However, keep on rolling that boulder. Happy New Year.

Footnote 1: It would have been very easy to make parallels to playing video games in this, but  I wanted to keep this one short and accessible for now. Back to video games later.

Footnote 2: This was the first of at least weekly posts for the excellent One A Day blogging project. Some of the forthcoming posts may mean I make a whole series of Hannah Montana and Philosophy type posts. Be warned.